STUDIO VISIT: JOSEPHINE BAKER
Josephine Baker is a multi-disciplinary artist, predominantly working across sculpture and installation. Based in south-east London, she recently moved into a studio space at Thames Side Studios in Woolwich.
Baker creates striking sculptural works comprised of found and repurposed objects, often coalescing these to build a wider narrative. Using an amalgamation of everyday materials including wood, plastic, metal and paint, she gives brave, new identities to the old and overlooked.
On entering Baker’s studio, she explains the large industrial-looking forms occupying the majority of the space, are for her upcoming solo exhibition Islands at London’s Kupfer Project Space. The sculptures are made using preformed garden ponds as their bases, each with its own additional components. Altered almost beyond recognition, Baker has transformed these man-made structures into reimagined, self-contained worlds.
Baker’s latest installation challenges visions of a disconcerting future, through a series of sculptures that highlight the destructive trace of environmental impact. Blending architecture with installation, she envisages the formation of artificial ponds as a sequence of floating oil-rig islands, cut off from their fundamental resources.
These particular sculptural works are cautionary, even menacing at first glance, their forms covered in rows of sharp, spiked plastic. Inside the body of each, a different level of deconstruction is taking place, missing parts replaced with wooden towers and spray-painted grass. Its apparent these works are labour-intensive to build, a manual process of layering the collected materials from the street and building sites.
Her work comments on the dwindling state of the earth’s natural energy reserves, a planet at breaking point. She explores the human desire to claim ownership of land, sea and power, by manifesting a dystopian outline for the destructive possibilities that could ensue.
Remnants of past projects can be found laying in wait, as Baker tells me she often re-uses segments of previous works for future pieces. A wide section of artificial grass rests, rolled-up next to a stacked pile of wood planks, painted delicately with a barbed wire pattern.
Your exhibition Islands opens next week. Can you tell us the premise behind the show?
Islands is a series of freestanding sculptures. Their bases are modelled on offshore oil platforms, rising up out of the floor as if it were the surface of the sea. Broken white tiles surround these bases like the foam of waves crashing against them.
There’s no single or explicit premise for the show, but the work has definitely been motivated by isolationism in the many senses of the word: political, social, geographical.
The short text I wrote to accompany it sets the scene:
A collection of interconnected islands, cut off from their mainland supply chains, are quickly running out of resources. In their attempt to create a new microclimate through sympoiesis, its occupants have stopped killing each other, and other forms of dependency have begun to emerge. The pyramid of need is being inverted. Water is overtaking the price of oil. Everything is becoming precious, and incalculable…
Part eco-fictional allegory, part revisionist dystopia, the text suggests the sculptures are a habitat for a narrative to take place. I’m thinking of printing a preparatory drawing for one of the sculptures to go alongside it, there are many versions with animals crouching within the sculptures, trying to drink, or shelter, or work together in some way. I like the idea that these sketches, which are slight and quick, could add a suggestion of the possibility of sentient life, without it being literally represented.
In your installations, you use materials that are easily identifiable. For Islands, you’ve used a lot of gardening products. Why have you been drawn to repurposing these objects in particular?
There are many contradictions latent in a lot of the materials I use, so I try to use them in ways where these contradictions can come to the surface. The main ‘body’ of the sculptures in Islands are pre-formed garden ponds, which are incredibly strange symbolic objects in their own right. Only fairly recent technological plastic-forming innovations have allowed for them to be mass-produced in this way, in a plethora of different forms and sizes. This variety and quantity seems to aspire to the random order of nature itself, the irony being this very act is all too human, the objects’ ultimate commodity.
The central sculpture in the archipelago is a tree-like structure, whose branches are made out of dowelling and cut-up bitumen roofing, sprayed green on the interior side to look like leaves, and on the exterior with flecks of white to look like the night sky. The holes punched into them could be bullet holes, or stars, or dappled moonlight coming through the branches. Whichever way, these holes completely contradict the function of the waterproof roofing. But then, that is not what a tree is ‘for’. The interpretation of nature into human-oriented function always has its inconsistencies. It always misses the mark.
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